Will Jehovah's Witnesses Live Forever?
One of the central themes of Watchtower Society theology, and the promised reward for the activities of Jehovah's Witnesses, is the possibility of living forever on an earth that has been restored by God to its original paradisiacal condition. One of the most popular and influential books by the Watchtower Society, You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth, is used by Witnesses to attract new members to the Society. Its color pictures portray a world in which contented Jehovah's Witnesses live in a lush garden with perfect health and in perfect peace.
Such a potential future is eminently attractive in a troubled world. It is entirely understandable that Jehovah's Witnesses long for eternal life in a perfect world. This longing, however, raises a critical question:does the Society truly promise eternal life to Jehovah's Witnesses, and how does its promise compare to the descriptions of the millennial kingdom given in the Bible?
The Millennial Paradise Promised by the Watchtower Society
The focus for Jehovah's Witnesses is the remaking of the earth in the 1,000 years following Armageddon. The Watchtower Society clearly delineates the chronological progression of life in the millennium following the destruction of all non-Jehovah's Witnesses at the battle of Armageddon:
Survivors restore Earth to its original paradisiacal condition
The Society explains that the faithful Jehovah's Witnesses who survive the destruction of Armageddon will have the work of cleaning up the earth and clearing away the ruins of this old system. And then they will have the privilege, under the direction of the Kingdom rule, of cultivating the earth and making it a beautiful place in which to live.1
The Society currently emphasizes the "joyful" aspects of this work,in which weapons will be transformed into agricultural tools, and Witnesses will practice large-scale xenoscaping. Watchtower publications from the recent past, however, present a grimmer picture of life immediately following Armageddon. The 1984 book Survival Into a New Earth explains:
True, as a result of the great destruction, the earth will be strewed with those slain by Jehovah. But no one knows better than God what needs to be done to safeguard the health of survivors. He tells us that he will invite the birds of heaven and the beasts of the field to his 'great evening meal' and that they will have their fill from the fleshy parts of those slain.What they do not consume he can dispose of by other means.2This author, who was raised as a Jehovah's Witness, can vividly recall childhood nightmares of a post-apocalyptic world in which birds and beast store at the carcasses of dead family and neighbors. The Society, in its desire to attract new converts, has prudently ceased discussing this phase of the transformation of the world into a "new earth."
The cessation of the effects of sin and the resurrection of the dead
As the restoration of the earth progresses, God will free humanity from the effects of sin. Jehovah's Witnesses will no longer suffer physical or emotional violence, illness, or death.3 Even the animals will live peaceably.4
The second resurrection of the dead, corresponding with the "better resurrection" mentioned in Hebrews 11:35,5 will occur after the paradise has been restored. The Society significantly notes, "At that time, instead of announcements of deaths, there will be joyful reports about those who have been resurrected.no funeral parlors, graveyards or tombstones will remain to spoil the beauty of the paradise earth."6 The significance of the clause, "at that time," is tied to the Society's teachings about the timing and activities of Judgment Day.
The Society's teaching regarding Judgment Day is particularly unique:the millennium following Armageddon is God's day of judgment.7 He and the 144,000 (those Witnesses chosen by God to serve as kings in heaven) will both govern over the earth and administer judgment against those individuals who refuse to serve Jehovah in the "new earth."8
This view of Judgment Day raises the key question for Jehovah's Witnesses who believe that they will inherit eternal life upon entering the restored paradise: what happens to those against whom Jesus renders judgment during the millennium?
No Guarantee of Eternal Life
The understanding that the millennial reign of Christ constitutes Judgment Day means that Witnesses must continue to follow the stringent rules of the Watchtower Society for the thousand years following Armageddon.
What happens to those who fail to follow the rules? The Society is surprisingly open about the fate of those who do not live as devout Witnesses:
Even under these best of circumstances, some will refuse to serve God. As the Scriptures say: 'Though the wicked one should be shown favor, he simply will not learn righteousness. In the land of straight forwardness he will act unjustly.' (Isaiah 26:10) So after being given full opportunity to change their ways and to learn righteousness, such wicked ones will be destroyed. Some will be put to death even before Judgment Day ends.9The significance of the clause, "at that time," in regard to the resurrection now becomes clear: God will continue to kill the disobedient throughout the millennium. In other words, not only do those Witnesses who survive Armageddon have no guarantee that they will live forever, but the resurrected may be killed a second time during Judgment Day.
Those Witnesses who survive to the end of the millennial Judgment Day face a further test when Satan is loosed to again deceive humanity. Following this test, God will destroy those Witnesses who turned away from Jehovah and his government.10 Again, there is no guarantee that Jehovah's Witnesses who enter the millennial kingdom will survive the judgment.
What Does the Bible Say About Eternal Life?
While there is diversity within Christianity over the meaning of the millennium, evangelicals are virtually unanimous on the meaning and ramifications of facing God's judgment.
The Society's teaching that those who are resurrected may be killed a second time is in direct contradiction to Scripture. The Bible teaches that humanity will die only once, and then face judgment.11
Interestingly, the Society takes Romans 6:7, which says, "For he that is dead is freed from sin," to mean that Witnesses will be judged during the millennial Judgment Day for only those sins they commit after they died and were resurrected.12 When taken in context, however, the passage directly opposes the Society's teaching. Verse eight continues, "Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him:" those who have died to sin and been resurrected through the atonement of Christ will live with Christ. Christians who are in Christ can rest assured that they will live forever with Him, without fear of continued judgment.
1 You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth (Brooklyn, NY: The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania,1989), p. 159.
2 Survival Into a New Earth (Brooklyn, NY: The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, 1984), p. 31.
3 Ibid., pp. 34-35.
4 You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth, p. 164.
5 Ibid., p. 173.
6 Ibid., p. 165.
7 Ibid., p. 176.
8 Ibid., p. 178.
10 Ibid., p. 183.
11 Hebrews 9:27.
12 You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth, p. 175.